Effects of Exposure to Lead - Everything You'd Ever Want to Know About Lead and Your Health - Free Information from EHSO

Everything You'd Ever Want to Know About Lead and Your Health

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In adults, exposure to lead can damage the peripheral nervous system, affecting memory, vision, muscle coordination, and causes weakness in the fingers, wrist or ankles. Absorption at high levels can damage kidneys, result in anemia and miscarriage, and decrease fertility in both men and women. Studies have also shown that lead acetate and lead phosphate are carcinogens in animals. The effects of chronic low levels of lead exposure on adult health is not clear, but such exposure may be associated with hypertension, blood pressure problems and heart disease.

For some additional information on the effects on lead exposure of adults, see the following publication:

[No Publication Number] "Recommendations of the Technical Review Workgroup for Lead for an Interim Approach to Assessing Risks Associated with Adult Exposures to Lead in Soil" (December 1996) -- This report describes a methodology for assessing risk associated with non-residential adult exposures to lead in soil. The methodology focuses on estimating fetal blood lead concentration in women exposed to lead contaminated soils. This approach also provides tools that can be used for evaluating risks of elevated blood lead concentrations among exposed adults.

This document is available in both PDF and WordPerfect formats at:



According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control(CDC), lead poisoning is one of the most common preventable pediatric health problems today. Recently, the CDC has estimated that as many as 1 in every 11 U.S. children under the age of 6 might have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Improved monitoring over the past 25 years, has shown that unborn and young children can suffer metabolic and developmental damage from exposure levels which were previously thought safe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lowered the acceptable blood lead level three times over the past 20 years, setting the current standard of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (10 ug/dL) in 1991.

Children differ physiologically from adults, and the effects of exposure differ accordingly. Because of their small body sizes and their rapid development, children are more vulnerable than adults to the hazards of lead exposure. Children between one and two years of age absorb 40 to 50% of ingested lead, whereas adults absorb only 10 to 15% of ingested lead. In developing countries where leaded gasoline, leaded paint and other major exposure routes are still common, all children under 2 and more than 80 percent between the ages of 3 and 5 may have blood lead levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) standard. It is estimated that 15 to 18 million children in economically developing countries may have suffered permanent damage from lead poisoning, resulting in lowered intelligence (as measured by IQ tests), learning disabilities, hearing loss, reduced attention span, and behavioral abnormalities.

Leaded gasoline continues to pose a major hazard to children in developing countries. Burning leaded gasoline generates lead-containing particles which eventually deposit as dust on soil. Since young children engage in a great deal of hand-to-mouth activity, they may ingest large amounts of lead from contaminated soil and dust. Deteriorating leaded paint also places children at risk: since lead paint tastes sweet, children are inclined to eat the paint chips. Babies can also be exposed to lead in-utero or through nursing if the mother has an elevated blood lead level.

* EPA/800/B-92/0002 Lead Poisoning and Your Children (1992)-- Lead is a teratogen and causes serious environmental health effects in young and unborn children. This publication is available on-line at:


* EPA/540/R-93/081 Guidance Manual for the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic Model for Lead in Children (1993)-- Guidance document to assist user in providing appropriate input to the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) Model for Lead. This pharmacokinetics model integrates exposure from lead in air, water, soil, dust, diet, paint and other sources to predict blood lead levels in children 6 months to 7 years old. The manual provides background information on environmental exposure parameters and contains recommendations that allow flexibility in site-specific risk assessments. This publication may be ordered from EPA's National Center for Environmental Publications and Information (NCEPI).

* EPA/540/R-94/039 Validation Strategy for Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic Model for Lead in Children (1994) -- This document describes the considerations and methods for characterizing the confidence to place in output from the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) Model for Lead in Children. This document is available in both PDF and WordPerfect formats at:


Additional information concerning the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) Model for Lead in Children is available at the following web site:


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